Thursday, September 19, 2019

The View From Here

     The political Left – i.e., the Democrat Party and its media handmaidens – is suffering badly. The series of blows delivered to it by the success of Trump Administration policies and the failure of Leftist attempts to undermine its principals has staggered it more seriously than any events since Warren Harding ended the depression that followed Woodrow Wilson’s War. (In case you’re unfamiliar with Harding’s method, he simply reduced federal spending by 40%.) At this point President Trump looks likely to repeat Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election tally. With things going this well, there’s nothing the Democrats have to hope President Trump “steps on his own crank.” That’s not impossible, mind you, but it’s not very likely.

     Are there still some clouds in the sky? Of course. When haven’t there been? There are still unemployed Americans. There are still zones of urban blight and violence. There are still teens and young adults who have no Playstations.® It’s called to my mind one of Eric Hoffer’s more ominous observations:

     A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed.

     You see, the subject of today’s tirade is political temptation.

     Many years ago, the late Ursula LeGuin wrote an extremely affecting story titled “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” It was, as the authoress said openly, “a variation on a theme by William James.” It described an idyllic city, a place where all the observer can see are peace, prosperity, and safety. Yet there are some who elect to “walk away” from such seeming perfection. Here is LeGuin’s stunningly powerful conclusion:

     The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

     Why do they walk away from what appears to be a realized Utopia? Because the joy of its residents was purchased at a price: permanent isolation and misery for one innocent child. Each of them must be acquainted with that price upon attaining his majority. Some find it unacceptable. In walking away, they reject the bargain.

     That’s the only thing they can do. Even to speak a kind word to that child would violate the bargain for all of Omelas. The consequences are left to the reader’s imagination, but LeGuin leaves no doubt that they would be harsh.

     I put it to you, Gentle Reader: What is the key characteristic of this scenario, the one that motivates those who walk away?

     No partial credit for near misses.

     The great political temptation is to look at something disliked, to classify it as a “problem,” and to imagine that it can be “solved.” “Problems” ought to be “solved,” right? You don’t just let them sit there. You get to work!

     That temptation has come near to ruining these United States. Do-gooders have classified one social condition after another as a “problem” and demanded that government “solve” it. In nearly every case the political “solution” demanded has made matters worse – usually not just for those afflicted by the “problem.” The ironies peak in noting that in many cases the “problem” had been dissipating all by itself, with a strong implication that the “solution” actually retarded its amelioration.

     I cannot imagine that the forces that propelled these movements are unaware of what they’ve done. Indeed, in some cases the outcome they produced was the one they intended. But for the purposes of this screed, that’s a side issue. The pernicious effects of temptation are the core of the matter.

     Just now, the official unemployment rate is very low. Let’s imagine, entirely for our current purposes, that only the 3.7% “unemployed” are involuntarily without work. That figure has a certain poignancy to it. “Can’t we do something for those poor people?” the meliorist cries. “Surely the power of the federal government can be brought to bear on this!”

     History contradicts the meliorist in the harshest possible tones. There are exactly zero examples of a government program that has reduced involuntary unemployment other than cosmetically – i.e., by making the unemployed into disguised wards of the State. The attempts have been many; the costs have been great; the successes have been none. With the weight of politico-economic history so solidly behind the “can’t do it” verdict, one would reasonably conclude that it can’t be done. Yet the meliorists continue to screech for it...and others continue to listen to them. Why?

     The answer is “justice.” Note the sneer quotes before you read onward.

     The rhetoric of the Social Gospelers was Christian. It was our Christian duty, they proclaimed, to address the plight of the downtrodden. That rhetoric had a massive effect. For as long as the response was private, confined to individuals and their voluntary associations, it did net good at an acceptable cost. The negative consequences of such private charitable action were bearable, as they’ve been throughout history.

     In our time, Social Gospel preachments are less effective than they were. This is especially the case in view of the immense outlays governments at all levels lavish upon “social programs.” A huge fraction of Americans’ taxes go to funding such programs, and the public is fully aware of it. It gives the old rejoinder “I gave at the office” a peculiar force.

     So those who would once have preached about our “Christian duty” have altered the terms of their outreach. Today they talk about “justice.” They tell us that it’s “unjust” that some should have more than others. It’s “unjust” that some should be involuntarily without jobs. It’s “unjust” that some trades compensate their workers so little. And so forth.

     Conceptually, justice is indivisible from rights. There is no definition of justice that can be separated from the rights of the individual. Americans have a clear conception of individuals’ rights, even those who can’t quite articulate it. That lends its clarity to their conception of justice...which is why the reformers of our time are at pains to muddy the concept by adding the word “social.”

     If we insist on the original conception of justice as a process for preserving, defending, and at need restoring the rights of the individual, the notion that government could properly be involved in the mitigation of individuals’ miseries is sharply limited. For the typical “underprivileged” individual is not in that condition because of injustice. He might not be skilled enough to be employed at a better wage. He might be lazy, or handicapped through no fault of anyone else’s. He might have a history that inclines employers to avoid him. Justice as Americans understand it simply isn't involved.

     Compelling a do-gooder to face those facts deals him a severe blow. He’s likely to call you a racist and scurry away. But he won’t retire from the fray. He’ll simply look for a more susceptible, less critical audience. Those 3.7% unemployed are counting on him!

     There are do-gooders of every stripe pressing for the attention of the Trump Administration. Some of them are President Trump’s relatives, and have his ear. Herein lies the most significant risk to the overall successes of the Administration to date.

     The risk emerges from the interplay of previous successes with “good intentions.”

     President Trump has proved himself to be a winner: one who can do what he’s said he’ll do. He’s wrestled several national afflictions and nuisances into submission, and is addressing further ones as we speak. Even the Reagan Administration can’t claim Trump’s number and degree of successes. It’s a record to be proud of.

     Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18

     If the do-gooders in Trump’s orbit should persuade him that there’s nothing immune to his golden touch, they could corrupt the most successful federal administration of the century behind us. Their most promising approach would be to tempt him to overreach by playing to his pride in his achievements to date.

     Take this business of mass shootings. There have been a few in recent years, though their frequency is not increasing. (Neither are the annual body counts of lives lost to unjustified homicide.) In a nation in which private persons can acquire firearms, such things will happen now and then. There’s no way to prevent them – and that admission is key to the whole affair: We can’t do anything about them.

     A legislative or executive attempt to prevent mass shootings would be overwhelmingly more likely to increase the body counts. It would do so by depriving law-abiding Americans of the means of self-defense, including their means of reacting constructively to the emergence of a would-be mass shooter. If President Trump remains focused upon what’s possible and what isn’t – i.e., if he keeps in mind the huge number of annual uses of privately owned firearms to prevent crimes or thwart them in progress, and ponders the consequences of prior infringements on the right to keep and bear arms – he’ll resist the importunings of the “we’ve got to do something” crowd.

     But Trump’s pride of achievement will be their target. “You’ve achieved so much already,” they’ll purr. “Surely you can do something about this!

     That’s only an isolated case. There are many others.

     The worst thing you can do to the liberals is take away their grievances. – Bill Moyers

     Almost-redressed grievances are all around us. They’ve been getting smaller since the end of the Obamunist Interregnum. Some are beginning to look pretty damned small...small enough that just a leetle federal intervention might stamp them out for good. That’s what the reformers, meliorists, and do-gooders with access to high Trump Administration officials will chant.

     At this time the Left is in a compromised position. Things are going too well, economically and internationally, for their usual persuasive approaches to gain traction. That’s why the parade of aspirants to the Democrat presidential nomination is composed of socialist fruits and nuts. No one with a dash of sense remaining to him wants to go up against the most successful administration of our time.

     There’s no shortage of cunning among the Left’s strategists and tacticians. They have a sense for where there opportunities lie. Remember how, in the 1930s, they seized upon the Depression as an opportunity to push socialism and communism? In the 1960s, the approach was to point to Michael Harrington’s “pockets of poverty” that only federal action could salve. And in the 1980s, with Reaganomics reviving the American economy, their focus turned sharply toward “environmentalism.” All chimeras – but all subjects on which they could at least pretend there were “problems” to “solve,” and that they cared, whereas the powers in place did not.

     Keep an eye on the Left’s pet think tanks, opinion-mongers, and publicity specialists. Watch what subjects they address. There will be a shift in their emphasis: possibly before the election, but more likely immediately afterward.

     And provide President Trump, along with the electoral support to which his achievements fully entitle him, a service akin to that rendered to kings and emperors of yore: the individual tasked with periodically whispering in the monarch’s ear:

“Remember, O King, that thou art mortal.”


Tracy Coyle said...

I remember reading the story some years ago (temporal displacement disorder) and thought - I'd rather live in a city with all the 'walk away' types than in the 'utopia'.

My answer to the posed question is: personal choice

To the next points I would note that a significant portion (maybe even a majority) do NOT understand 'rights' and because they don't, we get 'it's their right' to healthcare, a job, housing...etc.

My response to someone that says "do something!" is to say 'BE the example you think is necessary'.

Trump will over-reach...however, as either VD or Ace said, always wait a couple days after Trump says something OH NO! HE DIDN'T go there! because it seems to always be a disarming or negotiating tactic. Whatever pulls him back, or stops him from taking a comment forward into action, I hope, like you, it keeps working.....til 2024.

Backwoods Engineer said...

Very clearly-written piece, as usual. I'm still amazed that someone who has spent so much time in upstate NY is so pro-self-defense. I do know several people who live in upstate NY who own deer rifles but not handguns. Some of them, when visiting the free state of Alabama, have insinuated that carrying a pistol for self-defense, as many of us do, is somehow icky. Glad that attitude didn't rub off on you.

Sam L. said...

Moyers is wrong. They'll ALWAYS have something that needs fixing by the government.